Barcelona 2, Cordoba 0. The final score of the Copa del Rey.
It was as typical and signature a win as Barcelona have had this season. The team struggled to consistently threaten goal, but Lionel Messi was there to bail them out in the end.
This raises the question, will Barça's over-dependency on Messi cost them silverware, specifically the Champions League and Copa del Rey trophies?
Or is Lionel Messi just in such great form this season that the team seems more dependent on him than he really is?
The Messi Dependency
So far this season, Messi has been phenomenal. He is currently on track to at least match his league goal total from last season and is having a historic year.
The problem is that he is the only attacking player who is consistently making goals happen. No other Barcelona forward is significantly helping.
They are not doing nearly enough to help in creating or scoring goals. This could prove a major problem in elimination rounds, just like it did in the Champions League last season.
So far, La Pulga has score 46 percent of Barça's goals. This is three percentage points higher than last season.
The next-highest scorers on the team are Cesc Fabregas—a midfielder, and David Villa—who has scored most of his goals as a sub and Adriano defender and is not even a first-choice starter.
Messi now has 26 league goals to his name, while the other four forwards have combined for seven.
Carrying the Team
Beyond the numbers, Barcelona are relying far too much on Messi to win games.
As they showed against second-division Cordoba (with Pedro and Villa missing good chances), when No. 10 fails to score or create goals, the team really struggles to win close games.
In games that have been decided by one goal or less this season, Messi has been responsible for 60 percent of Barcelona's goals.
In eight of those ten games, Messi either scored or assisted the tying, winning, or only goals. Twice, he only assisted clinching goals—against Sevilla (Villa) and Valencia (Adriano).
That type of imbalance is less of a problem over 38 matches, but elimination rounds are a very different beast.
Barcelona Will Struggle in Europe
In a two-legged competition, stopping Messi for 90 minutes is potentially all a team needs to do to beat the Spanish giants.
Now, stopping him for a match is obviously very difficult, but we've already seen it happen twice this season against Celtic—a team that, in all fairness, is far from one of Europe's elite.
We also saw Chelsea do this last season.
Teams are starting to realize that Messi is not only the key to Barça's success, he's apparently the only one who is trying to open the door.
The strategy against Barcelona has been to overload the central defense so that Messi is overwhelmed when he receives the ball.
This forces La Blaugrana to spread play out wide where the wingers have to either force the ball in (where the tall defense has a strong advantage) or try and attack the goal themselves.
If Celtic had played Barcelona in the Round of 16, the Scots would have won the tie until Messi's 90th minute garbage goal in Scotland.
If one of the worst remaining teams in the tournament can beat Barcelona, how much can the Spaniards honestly be favored to lift the trophy more than great teams like Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid?
How Far Can Messi Carry Barcelona?
To this point, Barça's Messi dependency has not been a major problem domestically. The team has been so dominant in La Liga that less than half of their matches have been decided by one goal.
The lead over the two Madrid teams may be too big to overcome even when (or if) Messi fails to lift the team.
In the other two competitions, however, the setting and formats are a far greater hindrance to Barcelona. Quite simply, shutting Messi down essentially means beating Barcelona.
In La Liga, teams are thinking about earning points over the course of a season and how to keep the team best-suited to outlast their immediate threats.
In Europe and even the Copa del Rey (to a lesser extent), the focus is more narrow and tactics can be derived for only one match.
There is no tomorrow.
If Barcelona cannot start taking pressure off of Messi, they simply cannot be considered heavy favorites in Europe.
Cules may feel confident in Messi's form this season, but other teams will not be as impressed or intimidated as we move into the elimination rounds.
Eventually, just like last season and already this term, a team will be able to stop Messi. When they do, Barça's other players will have to step up, especially the wide men.
If they don't and if the other team can capitalize on the few chances they get, La Blaugrana will once again fail to be crowned champions of Europe.
Either that or Lionel Messi will need to have one of the truly great seasons of recent memory to overcome for these weaknesses within the team.
Let's see if Barcelona, as a team, can overcome this dependency in time.
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